Gun Bill Roadblock

January 27, 1994

It is no secret in Annapolis that the biggest impediments to handgun control are Cecil County Sen. Walter Baker and his Judicial Proceedings Committee. Already this session, Mr. Baker has sworn to kill any and all handgun legislation that comes before his committee. "Banning guns has nothing to do with crime," he said. Mr. Baker's Senate colleagues, though, have other ideas.

Their concern is that opposing handgun controls in an election year could be political dynamite, especially for incumbents running in urban or close-in suburban communities where crime is a dominant campaign issue. They don't want to go down to defeat because of Mr. Baker's stubborn refusal to let the full Senate vote on the matter.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller sent a strong signal to Mr. Baker last week that he had better alter his course. Mr. Miller said a bill calling for a tax on ammunition would not be sent to Mr. Baker's committee but to the Budget and Taxation Committee, where approval is more likely. Other gun-control plans could then be amended onto the bill either in committee or on the Senate floor.

This kind of end-run would prove deeply embarrassing to Mr. Baker. The pressure is mounting on him. Next Monday, he has set up a meeting with Gov. William Donald Schaefer to seek an accommodation. Mr. Schaefer is pushing handgun control. Perhaps the two men can agree on a way for Mr. Baker to save face. The main goal should be to ensure that the full Senate gets to vote on a broad range of gun-control issues.

We can understand Mr. Baker's animus toward handgun control. He comes from a largely rural county, where he started hunting with a rifle (not a handgun) for food when he was 10 years old. He has a right to voice a strongly-held view in opposition to handgun control. But he also owes his Senate colleagues the right to vote on this issue. No one elected Walter Baker dictator of the Senate, nor do we think he wants that to be his legacy.

The solution is clear: either Mr. Baker and his committee approve a modest gun-related bill that can be amended on the Senate floor, or Mr. Miller and his colleagues will diminish Mr. Baker's stature by circumventing his committee. One way or another, the full Senate should be given a chance to vote on gun control. The public demands no less.

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